Leveling up in Cleveland – 16th Place with Mono White Aggro

Matti Kuisma

Matti Kuisma

Introduction

The first Mythic Championship was held on the last weekend of February and I ended up in 16th place, which is my best result at a Mythic Championship/Pro Tour so far. My goal this season was to finally reach Gold Level, and after the tremendous result in Cleveland I am not only locked for Gold for the remainder of the year, but within a reasonable distance of hitting Platinum as well, which would be more than I ever dared to hope for.

Technically I’m only 3 points away from it, but my events are capped for the next cut-off and there’s only one event remaining in this quarter. That means I would need to upgrade a 1 point finish to a 4 point finish by going 13-2 at GP Bilbao. I do have decent odds in the next cycle though.

Legion's LandingTithe TakerHistory of Benalia

Anyway, this time I’ll share my thoughts on the Standard format as a whole, my deck selection process and a sideboard guide for the deck that I ended up playing to an 8-2 result in the Constructed rounds: Mono White Aggro.

Current Standard Format

If I were to compress my advice about this Standard format into one sentence, it would be this: Play what you like. For most of the Pro Tours I’ve played in, the whole testing team has settled onto one or two decks that we have found to be the better than the rest.

Heroic Reinforcements

For example, in PT Guilds of Ravnica last year our whole team played White Aggro splashing for 《Heroic Reinforcements》, as we thought it was simply the best choice for that tournament. Fellow #BoltTheBird member Kasper Nielsen even managed to top 8 that tournament with our list.

Hydroid KrasisTeferi, Hero of DominariaNexus of Fate
Benalish MarshalTempest DjinnGoblin Chainwhirler

This time, however, was different. There are lots of different decks in the metagame, and all of them have both bad and good matchups. If a deck gets too popular, the metagame will simply shift towards the decks that have a good matchup against it.

A couple of weeks before the Mythic Championship, there was a MOCS Preliminary and a PTQ held on the same weekend on Magic Online. Both had a large number of players, and thus a large sample of data to be analyzed. Our team went through the results from those events and the statistics showed that there were decks that had clearly above average and below average win rates – as known as good and bad choices.

For example, White Aggro won almost 60% of its matches that weekend, whereas Mono Blue barely reached 40%. However, we predicted that the metagame would change for the Mythic Championship so that those numbers would essentially even out. The good matchups for the best performing decks would be less popular, and their bad ones would be more popular. In other words, the metagame would become balanced.

Enigma DrakeCrackling Drake

As an example, Drakes simply obliterated the Mono Blue decks by going 30-2 in the matchup over the course of the weekend. White Aggro on the other hand went 19-10 against Drakes. We (correctly) expected Drakes to be less popular at the Mythic Championship than it was in those tournaments, which would make Mono Blue better and White Aggro worse.

Opt

In the end, we had 9 players on our testing team, and we ended up playing 5 different decks. Most of us went with what we were the most comfortable with, and for me that meant Mono White Aggro. I also liked the fact that the deck has relatively fast rounds compared to many others, so I wouldn’t feel as exhausted in the last couple rounds of each day. Other members of our team chose Simic Nexus, Mono Blue Tempo, Jund Chainwhirler and Sultai Nexus.

When I talked to members of other teams, this turned out to be very common. Almost every team seemed to have players playing multiple different decks. In situations like this, your ability to pilot a deck simply matters more than which one you play.

Mono White Aggro

Here’s the list I submitted.

No fancy twists this time, just the most solid and consistent version possible. I played a very similar list to a 6-2 result at the MOCS two weeks earlier, and Eli Loveman piloted an almost identical copy to a top 8 performance in GP Memphis 2019.

Adanto VanguardCitywide Bust

The most important change was cutting the maindeck 《Adanto Vanguard》 as they are terrible against Mono Blue and specifically 《Merfolk Trickster》. The 《Citywide Bust》 in the sideboard also ended up getting cut, as we didn’t expect many random green creature decks at the MC. Splashing blue for some sideboard cards like Marcio Carvalho did is a reasonable change, but it definitely has its downsides as well.

9 sources are not quite enough to consistently cast the blue cards, so I preferred the more reliable Mono White version despite it having slightly weaker options against Esper and Nexus decks.

Matchups and Sideboarding

Sultai Midrange

Hostage TakerHydroid Krasis

The biggest problem with Mono White Aggro is that its worst matchup is the most popular deck in the format. Golgari was already a questionable matchup in the previous format, and the additions of 《Hostage Taker》 and 《Hydroid Krasis》 certainly didn’t help.

Find // Finality

The most difficult card for you is still 《Find // Finality》, as it has always been. Mono White is quite good at creating a huge board and forcing the opponent to have both the 《Finality》 and the six mana sources to cast it fairly quickly, so sometimes they just crumble under the pressure. That said, it’s definitely an uphill battle.

Usually your 《Conclave Tribunal》 are spent on 《Wildgrowth Walker》 and 《Hostage Taker》 but remember that you can also take 《Llanowar Elves》 to prevent them from getting to 《Finality》. Sometimes you can also get a creature or two to survive the sweeper. The easiest way to do it is pumping up a 《Venerated Loxodon》 with an 《Unbreakable Formation》.

vs. Sultai Midrange

Out

Tithe Taker Tithe Taker Tithe Taker Tithe Taker
Unbreakable Formation Unbreakable Formation Unbreakable Formation Snubhorn Sentry
Conclave Tribunal Conclave Tribunal Legion's Landing

In

Tocatli Honor Guard Tocatli Honor Guard Tocatli Honor Guard Tocatli Honor Guard
Baffling End Baffling End Baffling End Baffling End
Ajani, Adversary of Tyrants Ajani, Adversary of Tyrants Ajani, Adversary of Tyrants

You could cut some more one-drops on the play to make room for 《Adanto Vanguard》, and 《Dauntless Bodyguard》 would probably be the next ones to go. The 《Adanto Vanguard》 are much better as standalone threats than the one-drops, but the deck requires a bunch of those to work properly so I feel somewhat uneasy about cutting more of them.

Venerated Loxodon

Cutting a 《Venerated Loxodon》 is also a reasonable thing to do, as it gets worse post-board when you have 《Tocatli Honor Guard》. It’s still a part of your most powerful draws and the 4/4 body is quite good at attacking, so I would keep all of them in. If you cut a 《Venerated Loxodon》, bringing in 《Adanto Vanguard》 is easier as you don’t need as many one-drops anymore.

Leaving in some number of 《Tithe Taker》 over one-drops is also a possibility. They are a bit slower, but also more resilient to removal and blockers.

Thief of SanityThought ErasureGrowth-Chamber Guardian

It’s good to keep in mind that not all Sultai lists play 《Wildgrowth Walker》 and the Explore package anymore. In that case, it’s better to leave the 《Tocatli Honor Guard》 in the sideboard. 《Thief of Sanity》, 《Thought Erasure》 and 《Growth-Chamber Guardian》 are common signs that your opponent is playing a variant without the 《Wildgrowth Walker》.

Mono Blue Tempo

Curious ObsessionSpell Pierce

This matchup is slightly favorable, but there are games where they can just blow you out, especially if they get to start and have a 《Curious Obsession》. Sequencing your threats correctly is very important here, and a small misstep can easily cost you the game. If they leave up one mana, it’s usually better to play 《Benalish Marshal》 over 《History of Benalia》 to play around 《Spell Pierce》 even when the 《History of Benalia》 would advance your own game plan better.

Merfolk Trickster

You should also consider what a mid-combat 《Merfolk Trickster》 can do before each of your attack steps. It’s often better to try to race a 《Curious Obsession》 than spend your turn trying to remove the enchanted creature with 《Conclave Tribunal》, as they are usually better at protecting their creatures than they are at attacking back. 《Tithe Taker》‘s effect is very good here, so don’t trade it away without a very good reason.

vs. Mono Blue Tempo

Out

Legion's Landing
Legion's Landing
Unbreakable Formation
Unbreakable Formation

In

Baffling End
Baffling End
Baffling End
Baffling End
Entrancing MelodyExclusion MageFaerie Duelist

Post-board it’s harder to get a big board as they have better counters and more removal in the form of 《Entrancing Melody》 and 《Exclusion Mage》. That means 《Unbreakable Formation》 gets worse. The 1/1 Vampire token from 《Legion's Landing》 is quite useless on its own and you have less ways to pump them after sideboard. It’s particularly bad against 《Merfolk Trickster》 and 《Faerie Duelist》.

I don’t really like leaving in the one 《Unbreakable Formation》, but it can sometimes be good if it lets your team attack through a 《Tempest Djinn》, and it also provides insurance against the flash two-drops so you can attack without worries. On the play you can consider leaving in the third 《Landing》 over the 《Formation》, as you are more likely to resolve a 《Venerated Loxodon》 and get the token pumped.

Simic Nexus

I believe this matchup to be favorable as well, at least against the most popular versions. Sometimes they get to Fog you a couple times in a row and then go off, but you have a pretty fast clock with some relevant disruption, and they have a pretty high fail rate, so you should win more often than lose. Game 1 is mostly just a race, so try to present as fast a clock as possible.

vs. Simic Nexus

Out

Unbreakable Formation Unbreakable Formation Unbreakable Formation
Healer's Hawk
Snubhorn Sentry

In

Demystify Demystify
Baffling End Baffling End
Adanto Vanguard
Baffling End
Incubation DruidDruid of the CowlAtzocan ArcherHydroid Krasis

It might be surprising to see 《Baffling End》 coming in here, but they tend to have a fairly high number of targets post-board: 《Incubation Druid》, 《Druid of the Cowl》, 《Atzocan Archer》, 《Hydroid Krasis》 and sometimes even a token from 《Biogenic Ooze》.

Blink of an Eye

I have found having removal for those being more valuable than the slowest one-drops. Just be careful of running into a 《Blink of an Eye》 on your 《Baffling End》. If you don’t like the 《Baffling End》, it’s completely reasonable to leave in some of the more proactive cards.

Snubhorn SentryAdanto Vanguard

If you feel like it, you can also switch another 《Snubhorn Sentry》 for a second 《Adanto Vanguard》. Again, I’m rather cautious of cutting too many one-drops but drawing multiple 《Snubhorn Sentry》 early can lead to a draw that simply doesn’t pressure the opponent at all. I like boarding out the one, but it’s very possible that it’s better to take out two.

White Aggro

In the mirror and the pseudo-mirror, most games come down to who has the bigger board. In some games, the player on the play will just steamroll the player on the draw, but in others the board gets stalled and the one with more 《Benalish Marshal》, 《Unbreakable Formation》 or fliers wins. 《History of Benalia》 can also create a sizable advantage for the player who manages to land theirs first.

Unbreakable Formation

《Unbreakable Formation》 is particularly important in the board stall games. Often the game advances to a state where neither player can risk attacking, as the blocker can simply choose the most advantageous blocks and then counterattack for lethal on their turn. The 《Unbreakable Formation》 sidestep this dance completely. It buffs your team so that the opponent has fewer free blocks, and any other kinds of blocks are basically just chumping. Your attackers even have vigilance for that turn so there’s no fear of a lethal counterattack.

With all this combined, it is one of the best possible cards in the matchup. My list has a higher number of 《Unbreakable Formation》 than most, and I believe it gives a nice advantage against the other White Aggro decks. It does get a bit less effective in the post-board games as they will have more removal and you will have less creatures, but it’s still quite good.

vs. White Aggro

Out

Tithe Taker Tithe Taker Tithe Taker Tithe Taker
Conclave Tribunal

In

Baffling End Baffling End Baffling End Baffling End
Demystify

You want to bring in the 《Baffling End》 to have more answers for opposing 《Benalish Marshal》. 《Tithe Taker》‘s abilities are less important than being able to curve out as quickly as possible, so I would take out those instead of some one-drops. 《Conclave Tribunal》 can be quite clunky in multiples and you’re bringing in cheaper removal anyway, so you can easily board out one of them.

On the draw you can also take out a second 《Conclave Tribunal》 for a second 《Demystify》, and on the play you can replace it with an 《Ajani, Adversary of Tyrants》.

DemystifyAjani, Adversary of Tyrants

I have often boarded out a couple of one-drops for additional 《Demystify》 and 《Ajani, Adversary of Tyrants》, but I’m not sure if they’re worth it, as it is quite important to have a quick board presence. They don’t always have enchantments for 《Demystify》 and you don’t always have the fourth land for 《Ajani, Adversary of Tyrants》, whereas a one-drop creature will always do something.《Ajani, Adversary of Tyrants》 is very high variance here, because if you’re behind on the board it usually doesn’t do much, but if you get to land it on an even board it can run away with the game. For that reason, I like it more on the play than on the draw.

Esper Control

Kaya's Wrath

The good news here is that a flipped 《Legion's Landing》 is quite hard for them to deal with, but the bad news is that most of your draws are quite soft to 《Kaya's Wrath》. If you have a reasonable board presence already, you can just sit behind an 《Unbreakable Formation》 and protect your creatures.

However, often you can’t afford that and just have to hope that they don’t have it. If you play too cautiously you usually end up giving them too much time and lose regardless of whether they have it or not.

vs. Esper Control

Out

Snubhorn Sentry Snubhorn Sentry Snubhorn Sentry Snubhorn Sentry
Healer's Hawk
Venerated Loxodon
Unbreakable Formation

In

Ajani, Adversary of Tyrants Ajani, Adversary of Tyrants Ajani, Adversary of Tyrants
Adanto Vanguard Adanto Vanguard
Tocatli Honor Guard Tocatli Honor Guard

On the play you can keep in the 《Venerated Loxodon》 and leave out one of the 《Tocatli Honor Guard》. 《Venerated Loxodon》 is quite weak against both 《Kaya's Wrath》 and 《Absorb》, but on turn 3 on the play it can be fast enough anyway.

《Unbreakable Formation》 becomes less reliable post-board as it’s harder to have a board worth protecting from 《Kaya's Wrath》, but I still like having a couple of copies to counter it.

Tocatli Honor GuardSnubhorn Sentry

The 《Tocatli Honor Guard》 might seem like a strange thing to bring in, but 《Hostage Taker》 is quite powerful against you and it’s nice to have some creatures that don’t die to 《Cry of the Carnarium》.

It’s possible that cutting all the 《Snubhorn Sentry》 is wrong, but I’ve had way too many games where they just stand there for a long time as 0/3s before getting swept away by a 《Kaya's Wrath》. In this matchup City’s Blessing is quite hard to get early without getting decimated by a sweeper.

Mono Red Aggro

Goblin Chainwhirler

This matchup is not as scary as you might think. 《Goblin Chainwhirler》 can sometimes be a blowout, but you have some good cards against them as well in 《Venerated Loxodon》 and 《History of Benalia》.

You can also slowroll your one-toughness creatures a bit in order to mitigate 《Goblin Chainwhirler》’s impact. If there’s at least one creature on the board they can kill with the 《Goblin Chainwhirler》, they will almost always just slam it on turn 3 instead of waiting and hoping to get more value. You can also often sense when they don’t have one in hand, as they tend to use their 《Shock》 and 《Lightning Strike》 more liberally on your first creatures.

vs. Mono Red Aggro

Out

Skymarcher Aspirant Skymarcher Aspirant Skymarcher Aspirant Skymarcher Aspirant
Unbreakable Formation Unbreakable Formation Unbreakable Formation Dauntless Bodyguard
Legion's Landing

In

Tocatli Honor Guard Tocatli Honor Guard Tocatli Honor Guard Tocatli Honor Guard
Baffling End Baffling End Baffling End Baffling End
Ajani, Adversary of Tyrants

They have so much removal that 《Unbreakable Formation》 is quite hard to get value from, and you also want to minimize your vulnerability to 《Goblin Chainwhirler》 by cutting some of the worst one-drops for 《Tocatli Honor Guard》.

Aside from the big bad 《Goblin Chainwhirler》, 《Tocatli Honor Guard》 also shuts off 《Viashino Pyromancer》 if they still have it, which is nice.

Post-board games can often go long, as both players now have better answers to the opposing threats. The card advantage is important here so 《History of Benalia》 is one of your best cards, but unfortunately 《Ajani, Adversary of Tyrants》 is not very good at providing it in this particular matchup, so I wouldn’t recommend bringing in more than one or two copies.

Conclusion

Like I said earlier, in this Standard format it’s best to play what you are the most comfortable with. And if aggressive decks are your thing, I believe that White Aggro is the best one in the format, with or without the blue splash. It’s not particularly flashy or cool, but it sure is fast, consistent and capable of beating anything.

Until next time.

Matti

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Matti Kuisma

Matti Kuisma A Finnish player who won WMCQ and top 8’d in 2016 World Magic Cup as Finland representative. Finished 28th in Pro Tour Aether Revolt, and missed narrowly one point shy of Gold level in 2016-17 season. Joins Hareruya Hopes in 2017-18 season and he won GP Barcelona 2018 (Modern) with his pet deck Dredge. That winning means a lot for him and his country because he is the very first Finnish GP champion in the Magic history. Read more articles by Matti Kuisma